Deconstructing That Whiny “Goodbye Chicago” Post From a Transportation Perspective
I realize that probably too much digital ink has already been spilled over that recently published airing of grievances against Chicago by some dude who moved to our city from San Francisco, lived here for three years, didn’t get the hang of it, and then split for New York. Ridicule of the author is blowing up my social media feeds, and a Streetsblog Chicago reader already requested that I remove a link to the article from our morning headline stack due to some misogynist content.
But sorry folks, it’s late Friday afternoon and I can’t resist critiquing the piece from within my particular wheelhouse, sustainable transportation and urban planning. Yes, it’s irritating that the guy puts Chicago down because he couldn’t locate any affordable Lagunitas (not even at the company’s South Side brewpub?) and found the city to be socially conservative, even though he claims it’s “the liberal beacon of the Midwest.” (That’s Minneapolis, bro.) However, what I found most annoying was his complaint that Chicago is a hostile city for car-free living.
In fairness, I myself found our city to be an acquired taste when I first moved here, and it took a few years until I was truly comfortable navigating its 227 square miles on foot, bike, and CTA. Moreover, it’s unfortunate that within three years the author suffered one (presumably bike) crash where his jaw was broken and he lost some teeth, another where a jeep driver “gunned it out of a stop sign” and T-boned him, and a third incident where he slid off his cycle on the icy Lakefront Trail and into frigid Lake Michigan. But lets look at some of his other transportation beefs.
Residents will tell you Chicago’s public transit is amazing. They won’t mention an entirely non-existent east-west ‘L’ line on the North Side, or lack of bus transfers, or lines that don’t run at night, or that if they don’t own a car, the person they’re dating most certainly does.
Well, our city probably has the second-best transit system in the country after New York, especially if you factor in the extensive Metra regional commuter rail system and South Shore Line service to Indiana. But, sure, there’s room for improvement.
Certainly, more east-west and north-south CTA ‘L’ train lines would be a huge upgrade, which is something local advocates have recently been lobbying for via the Transit Future funding campaign. While there’s plentiful east-west bus service on the North Side and elsewhere, we definitely should be speeding up service on more CTA bus lines with timesaving features like dedicated lanes, prepaid boarding, and transit signal prioritization.
But actually, the CTA does offer bus transfers if you use the Ventra payment card, which most customers are already doing. True, some bus and ‘L’ lines don’t run 24 hours, although many major bus routes and the Red and Blue lines do. But give me a break, Mr. San Francisco Expat, BART service between SF and the East Bay shuts down at midnight. Since you can’t walk or bike across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, that means there are no car-free option for making that key commute after hours, save for a long bus ride.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m friendly with tons of local couples and families in Chicago who don’t own cars. Chicago has the seventh-lowest rate of car ownership of major U.S. cities, with 28 percent of households car-free. Although it certainly varies depending on which neighborhood you live in, this is a fairly easy place to get around without owning an automobile, especially with the advent of ride-share.
Then there are the author’s gripes about density:
It’s a big city, and more importantly a very spread out one. Its population density is low for a major city. You can’t always walk to your grocery store. You can’t always walk to a busy strip of bars. And whatever friends you do make, you most probably cannot walk to them.
Yes, Chicago is less dense than New York or San Francisco. Certainly food and retail deserts are a major problem in large segments of the South and West sides, and we need to do more to address that issue. But Chicago’s population density is not low for a major U.S. city. It’s the fourth-densest in the country with 11,868 residents per square mile, just after Boston. We’ve certainly got our fair share of bustling, walkable shopping and nightlife districts compared to peer cities. As for making friends with people who live in your neighborhood, that’s up to you, of course.
So, sorry man, but if you had a lousy time in Chicago due your transportation and logistical challenges, it’s probably not us, it’s you.